Full Description of Spring Sessions:
The Arab Image Foundation (AIF) is an independent association founded in 1997 in Beirut. Its collection of over 500,000 photographic objects and documents from and related to the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora has been gradually assembled over the last 20 years by artists and researchers and through donations.
Lebanon, with its ongoing economic crisis since October 2019 and the explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4th, is an actual and obvious example of the failure of neoliberal economy. It is in front of this backdrop that the Board of Directors of the AIF has revisited its governance, and its internal procedures, as well as revived questions around the ways of engaging with its collections.
The Spring 2021 PIR will begin with an introductory conversation presented by the three residents, followed by a series of talks, and a multi-part workshop which will focus on specific collections used as case studies. These collections will be the basis for research, critical documentation, as well as creative engagement and will be used to explore questions related to the social, economic and political dimension of photographs and collections. The participants will present their research and findings in diverse formats on the AIF’s online platform.
Vartan Avakian will focus on themes of the materiality of memory, hierarchy of media and data and will explore the issues of ownership, authorship and capital in light of collections which are not part of the AIF. Avakian’s work stems from a reading of data as scratches and stains: as a series of inscriptions that exist in sculptural form. Consequently, memory is seen as the activity of excavating and deciphering data from these traces. In this sense, photographs, drawings, sculptures, vinyl records, books, celluloid films, magnetic tapes and hard-disks are not fundamentally dissimilar to dreams, aspirations, recollections, feelings and other biological inscriptions on DNA polymers. They are similar in that they are scratches and stains that leave traces, waiting to be uncovered, deciphered and perceived.
In his sessions, Avakian will focus on his artistic practice through two collections: the Studio Mario Collection, a photograph collection found in the ruins of Barakat Building during its renovation and subsequent transformation into a museum; and Cinema Royal Film Collection, a collection of commercial film negatives from storage of Cinema Royal, a decommissioned film theatre. Avakian will discuss artwork he has produced based on the Studio Mario Collection, and examine Cinema Royal Film Collection through the lens of property ownership and film authorship in the context of the market of archives and the questions around custodianship.
Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh will discuss her practice by looking at the collection from Burj al-Shamali camp and its relation to AIF, and by sharing her experience with the informal collective on Western Sahara, who has made the Arab Image Foundation a custodian of one of the copies of Necessità dei Volti (The Necessity of Faces).
Through these two projects, she will discuss methodologies dealing with omissions, imaginaries, and resistance in archives. Her interest lies in exploring the agency of photographs and collections gathered in contexts of displacement and migration. She will thus highlight other aspects of ethics, rights and custodianship through these two collections. By constantly re-evaluating what a photograph means and does once it is part of a collection, and integrates a certain order and description, she will encourage participants to shed light on power hierarchies and representational dynamics, but also to question their own position as producers, distributors and consumers of images in society and the contemporary world today.
The Burj al-Shamali collection was gathered in the Burj al-Shamali Palestinian Refugee Camp in Southern Lebanon between 2001 and 2011. During this time, Eid-Sabbagh developed and gathered – mostly in collaboration with camp residents – an extensive digital collection of personal and studio photographs, which also includes videos and audio recordings documenting specific photographs or photographic practices in the camp.
Necessità dei Volti (The Necessity of Faces) is a book containing a selection of 483 photographs from a collection gathered by the Polisario from the Moroccan soldiers it faced in battle during the fifteen-year war against Morocco (1976-1991), and in custodianship of the Polisario since then.
Kristine Khouri’s sessions will introduce the questions of provenance and histories of collecting by thinking through the construction of archives, their locations and movement as well as the process of digitization and re-distribution. How do these histories feed into the questions of custodianship and ownership, power and ethics and the rights to these archives? How and by whom do stories of these objects get to be told? What are the rights associated with these materials? How does the narration of their histories stand in the context of the call for the return of objects from museum collections today? What are the infrastructures and systems that engage in or challenge these processes? Kristine will draw on her current research on provenance, rights and access policies for GLAM institutions, as well as her work on the Past Disquiet research project, which unearthed the histories of art collections built in solidarity with political struggles and transnational networks of artists. The project’s digital archives, which came about in the process, the imagination of alternative museums, and presentation of the research will be looked at to explore some of the topics mentioned. She will also address considerations around the methodology of research processes and the possibilities and limitations of the digital to narrate or share the stories and histories drawn from the research.
Complete captions of images displayed on this page:
- Film-based negative presenting channeling and traces of retouching as part of the studio practices, 1950s-1970s, Iran. Studio Sano Collection. Courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut.
- View of processing practices during the pilot project of the Redwan Matar binders. Courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut.
- Suspended Silver, 2015. Collected Silver crystals from Studio Mario Photographic Collection. Courtesy of Vartan Avakian.
- Reconstruction of a Google Maps satellite image no longer accessible, with the Burj al-Shamali camp digitally erased © Digital Globe 2007 and Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh, 2017.
- Material from the archive of graphic designer Toshio Satoh. Taken during a research trip to Japan for Past Disquiet. Courtesy of Kristine Khouri.